Duke Ellington playing a game of in LaVilla while on tour in 1955. (Library of Congress)
“There will be a day sometime in the near future when this guide will not have to be published. That is when we as a race will have equal rights and privileges in the United States.” - Victor Green
First published in 1936 by Green, the “Negro Motorist Green Book” became the bible of Black travel during Jim Crow. For years, outside of the Black community, little was known about the Green Book, which was a compilation of accommodations, gas stations, restaurants and other businesses for people of color attempting to travel free of racial humiliation, discrimination and violence.
The majority of “Green Book” sites around the country have been destroyed already, making the preservation of the little that remains, more important than ever. Thanks to the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, 21 issues of the Green Book, dating between 1937 to 1967 are digitized online. Of the Jacksonville sites, four remain standing. The Fiesta Hotel in Durkeeville, a former Odd Fellows Masonic Lodge building that housed the Sunrise Restaurant in the Black Bottom, and the Richmond and Wynn Hotels (listed as Hotel Sanders) in LaVilla.
1251 Kings Road
The Fiesta Motel was a motel for Black travelers when it opened in 1961 with 26 air conditioned rooms, each with television and telephone. The old motel is now the 1251 Efficiency Apartments at 1251 Kings Road.
A 1968 postcard of the Fiesta Motel. (Library of Congress)
636 West Ashley Street
Originally built across the street from 19th-century madam Cora Crane’s Hotel de Dream, this three story structure housed a variety of businesses during the ragtime, jazz and blues age of the early 20th century. In 1913, it housed a restaurant owned by M. Kinsey Bellamy. In 1931, the Wynn Hotel opened in the building’s upper floors, while a jazz club called the Lenape Tavern and Bar opened on the first floor.
Operated by Jack D. Wynn, the hotel became a favorite spot of Louis Armstrong when visiting LaVilla. Wynn’s son, David Ruben Wynn, is a noted local artist who had his work exhibited at the Center of International Culture in Paris, France in 1975. In addition to Armstrong, others who performed at the Lenape include Dizzie Gillespie, Billie Holiday and Ray Charles, who briefly lived at 633 West Church Street. It was identified as Hotel Sanders in the Green Book.
422 Broad Street
Built in 1909, the Richmond Hotel was once one of the finest hotels in Downtown Jacksonville for African-Americans during the Jim Crow era. Featuring 48 upper floor rooms and a 65 seat restaurant, its famed guests included Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald, and Billie Holiday. The Richmond closed for good in the early 1970s, following desegregation. Today, its street level retail spaces are occupied by Delo Studios, an art gallery, meeting and event space. However, the building’s former hotel rooms have largely sat empty and untouched over the past five decades.
The Richmond Hotel in 1942. (Courtesy of the Crisis Magazine)
827-29 Pearl Street
The Sunrise Restaurant was located inside George D. Wood’s Independent Furniture Company store at the intersection of State and Pearl Streets in the Black Bottom. Wood was the president of the Mount Olive Cemetery Association and owner of the furniture store and the Durkeeville Apartments. The storefront was located on the ground floor of the Fraternal Order of Odd Fellows Hall.
According to James Weldon Johnson, the Odd Fellows lodges were made up of white collar workers while the local Masonic lodges recruited largely from stevedores, hod carriers, and lumber mill and brickyard hands. Located at the southeast corner of State and Cedar (now Pearl) streets, the Odd Fellows Hall was designed as a three level building with retail on the ground floor.
Built right after the Great Fire of 1901, this is where the Cookman Institute held its graduation ceremony in 1907. A young A. Philip Randolph, the class valedictorian, gave a speech he called “The Man of the Hour.” Randolph would later organize the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first predominantly African-American labor union and the March on Washington in 1963.
In March 1912, Booker T. Washington, co-founder of the National Negro Business League and key proponent of African-American businesses, visited Jacksonville as a part of his Florida tour. Here, he attended a banquet held for him after arriving in town by special train. In later years, Zora Neale Hurston also performed at the Fraternal Order of Odd Fellows.
Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. Contact Ennis at email@example.com